You’re sat in the garden on a wicker chair, reading a book. Maybe you’re in the living room, watching Homes under the Hammer. Or perhaps you’re in the kitchen, loading your slow cooker with onions and peppers, preparing the evening meal for the family. The phone rings, you introduce yourself with your ID code and language, and ask those words:
“How can I help you?”.
And, as easily as that, you’re earning money. From the comfort of your home, without any overheads, without needing to dress up in a suit and board a crowded train whilst a face mask rubs off all your makeup from your nose.
Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?
Certainly, telephone interpreting does have some major plus points, like in the imaginary scenario laid out above. However, we also need to take a look at some issues on the flip side of this particular coin.
Qualifications – what level of qualifications do you need? Generally speaking, a Level 3 qualification will get you onto most agencies books for telephone interpreting. It is possible that some agencies won’t allow you to help clients from the legal sector, for example, without a Level 6 qualification, but a Level 3 will open most doors, at least to the police, NHS, mental health, social services and community work settings.
Pay – how much can you expect to get paid? Well, this varies from one service provider to another. There normally isn’t a variance in remuneration for TI depending on level of qualification, instead most agencies apply a flat fee paid by minute spent interpreting. Some agencies have a 30min and 60min rate, while others also offer a pre-booked service where you get paid for the time booked as a minimum, regardless of how long you’re on the phone for. The rates are in the region of £14 – £17 per hour. Naturally, agreements with private clients can be negotiated.
Connection – although it seems difficult to imagine in this day and age, the connection can sometimes be very poor. Transatlantic phone calls, static on the line, even noisy call centre backgrounds can turn a relatively easy phone call into a struggle.
Variety of topics and need to grasp terminology – Some calls are easy. ‘When is my next tax credit payment due?’ . ‘I’ve moved house and need to set up a new gas and electricity account please.’ Equally, some are difficult. That 9pm call from the custody sergeant in Scotland, needing to book in a drunk, verbally abusive national who refuses to listen to you and keeps ranting about needing a cigarette. The call from a hospital somewhere in the Midwest US, preparing a patient for a heart transplant, while the son insists on interpreting (not very well) to the patient even though the Dr has you on loudspeaker. As a TI, you need to have a vast amount of terminology at your fingertips immediately.
Days when no calls come in – There’s nothing worse that those days when you’re sitting at your wicker chair/sofa, drumming your fingers on the table, waiting and wishing for calls to come in as you could really do with the money. After a day spent logged on and earning all of £15, it’s difficult not to feel disheartened.
Days when too many calls come in – That’s just how life works. You think ‘oh, I have so much to do today, but I wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to earn some £££’. So you pull the hoover out, get busy chopping up the food for your weekly meal prep, and the phone keeps ringing. Off. The. Hook.
As with everything, telephone interpreting is a case of checks and balances.
Amazing preparation for F2F – one thing TI provides is an incredible variety of topics for interpreting. There is no way that you would be able to access all the different sources of terminology in one day through Face to Face interpreting (not without going crazy, anyway). And the amazing thing is – you’re constantly taking notes, so it is so easy to develop your glossary, jot down unfamiliar terminology and research it between calls!
You choose your availability – You’re not required to be logged on at particular times, so you’re free to disconnect and take a lunch break, pick the kids up from school, or hoover the lounge. You’re your own boss and you can fit it around your life. In fact, you learn which clients tend to contact the agency at which times, so if you like interpreting for Canadian health centres during their two-hour long routine Dr’s check-ups (you’ve got to admire the Canadian health system), 9pm UK time onwards is just the ticket.
Nice time filler between F2F – You may have an hour-long mental health appointment in the morning and a 15min GP practice interpreting assignment in the afternoon. Logging into TI in between is the ideal filler in order to maximise your earning for that day!
It’s clear to see why agencies love offering TI and why it’s a popular entry point into the world of interpreting for qualified bilinguals. Covid19 has shown that TI (with new branches out into video interpreting) is here to stay as it can be easily implemented and adjusted to suit new settings.
So make the most of it – get qualified and jump into the amazing whirlwind that is telephone interpreting!